The Moriah Harbor Cay National Park is an assemblage of small islands, cays, rocks, and shallow reefs, all serving as natural barriers protecting the mainland from the relentless wave energy of the Exuma Sound. MHCNP offers stunning aesthetic land and seascapes, with intact native coastal plant populations, shifting sand bars, powder beaches, and mangrove creeks. Moriah Harbour Cay National Park provides a critical ‘reef to ridge’ ecosystem connections for a variety of marine and terrestrial species.
It was established because of the intrinsic value of the marine environment. The areas in MHCNP are home to diverse populations of bird, fish and other marine species, and are ecologically important serving as nursery and nesting areas.
As a nesting area, it is important to a variety of seabirds and shorebirds, including plovers, oystercatchers, terns, nighthawks, and ospreys. Seagrass beds, mangroves, creeks, and lagoons are vital nursery habitat for juvenile crabs, queen conch, bonefish, groupers, snappers, and spiny lobster. Terrestrial habitats are comprised of intact buttonwood, palmetto, sea oats, and other plant species found in healthy coastal ecosystems in The Bahamas.
There are also several hardbottom shoal and reef habitats in the park that are hotspots for biodiversity and harbor an abundance of several fish species.
As early as the mid-1980s concerned citizens began expressing the need to protect Moriah Harbour Cay and its surrounding areas. Led by Basil Minns, an avid birdwatcher, fisherman, and respected member of the community, a campaign was forged and gained momentum in the late 1990s. A broad spectrum of stakeholders got involved, including students and adults from across Exuma, who wrote numerous letters to the Prime Minister and other government officials. They called for the Government to establish the national park and within months, the “Save Moriah Harbour Cay Project” had attracted a significant following and national attention.
Widespread support for the national park continued, with the Exuma Tourism and Environmental Advisory Committee, Local Government, bonefish guides, and other civic groups endorsing the effort. Exuma residents and other supporters wrote articles and letters to the editor about Moriah Harbour Cay and the need for a national park. Meetings were held on Exuma to discuss boundaries and rules for what would be a national park. It was agreed during these early sessions that traditional uses of the area would be maintained, including bonefishing and harvesting of the silver top palm.
Moriah Harbour Cay National Park | Shot by Colin Ruggiero
In April 2002, the Government of The Bahamas declared the area a national park, conveying Moriah Harbour Cay National Park (MHCNP) to the BNT. The following year, when the boundaries were gazetted for Exuma, Moriah Harbour Cay and about half of the proposed area was excluded. BNT and supporters of the original proposal continued to advocate for the excluded area and eventually succeeded. The expansion of MHCNP was approved in 2015, as part of a national declaration by The Government of The Bahamas.
The effort to save Moriah Harbour Cay, with its humble beginnings, evolved into a campaign that took the national stage. Its success is attributed to the tireless efforts of persons like Jane and Basil Minns, and many other concerned individuals, groups, and organizations that took part in the grassroot movement.